I am so excited to feature this intense sounding spy book! Thank you so much to Gary Dickson and Girl Friday Productions for sending this my way! It sounds so good! It sounds like the perfect classic spy read!This is the sequel to An Improbable Pairing.
The unintended consequences of acing a test . . . or when all else fails, try blackmail.
In July of 1964, after marrying in Paris, Desirée and Scott Stoddard are honeymooning in the South of France when their idyll is interrupted by a notice from Scott’s draft board advising him that his status is being reviewed. Desirée, the former French countess who is already three months pregnant, doesn’t understand why her new husband, an American, must traipse off to some military base in Germany to be tested. Scott’s remarkable scores on the tests attract the attention of the CIA, and Scott, much to his dismay, becomes part of their world of intrigue and deceit. How can he get back to the life that he and Desirée had envisioned? When all else fails, blackmail is the answer.
A Spy with Scruples plunges readers into the complicated political world of Cold War Europe. From neutral Switzerland to the aristocratic salons of Paris to bombed-out Berlin, Scott ingratiates some and offends more. But he has a plan.
Gary Dickson is an inveterate traveler and a Francophile sans merci. Educated in Switzerland in history, literature, and the classics, Gary lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Susie.
Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER (MIRA Trade; September 1, 2020; $17.99).
With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.
I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested. The sheriff and his deputies would roll up the drive, bouncing on the gravel, but coming fast, too fast to be stopped, too fast for Lobo to get away through the fields. Or maybe Lobo would be asleep, and they would surprise him, his eyes red, slit like taillights. My mama and I would weep with joy as they led him off. The deputies would wrap us in blankets, swept in their blue lights. We were innocent, weren’t we? Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time, involved with the wrong man—and we didn’t know, my mama didn’t know, the extent.
But that wasn’t true, not even close.
I sold the weed at a gas station called Crossroads to a boy who delivered meals for shut-ins. Brown paper bags filled the back of his station wagon, the tops rolled over like his mama made him lunch. I supposed he could keep the bags straight. That was the arrangement Lobo had made years ago, that was the arrangement I kept. I left things uncomplicated. I didn’t know where the drugs went after the boy with the station wagon, where the boy sold them or for how much. I took the money he gave me and buried most of it in the yard.
After his station wagon bumped back onto the rural route, I went inside the store. There was a counter in the back, a row of cracked plastic tables and chairs that smelled like ketchup: a full menu, breakfast through dinner. They sold a lot of egg sandwiches at Crossroads to frackers, men on their way out to work sites. It was a good place to meet; Lisbeth would come this far. I ordered three cheeseburgers and fries, and sat down.
She was on time. She wore gray sweatpants under her long denim skirt, and not just because of the cold. “You reek, Wil,” she said, sliding onto the chair across from me.
“Lobo says that’s the smell of money,” I said.
“My mama says money smells like dirty hands.”
The food arrived, delivered by a waitress I didn’t know. Crinkling red and white paper in baskets. I slid two of the burgers over to Lisbeth. The Church forbade pants on women, and short hair, and alcohol. But meat was okay. Lisbeth hunched over a burger, eating with both hands, her braid slipping over her shoulder.
“Heard from them at all?” she asked.
“You think he would let her write you? Call?”
“She doesn’t have her own phone,” I said.
Lisbeth licked ketchup off her thumb. The fries were already getting cold. How about somethin’ home made? read the chalkboard below the menu. I watched the waitress write the dinner specials in handwriting small and careful as my mama’s.
“Hot chocolate?” I read to Lisbeth. “It’s June.”
“It’s freezing,” she said.
And it was, still. Steam webbed the windows. There was no sign of spring in the lung-colored fields, bordered by trees as spindly as men in a bread line. We were past forsythia time, past when the squirrels should have been rooting around in the trees for sap.
“What time is it now?” Lisbeth asked.
I showed her my phone, and she swallowed the last of her burger.
“I’ve got to go.”
“Choir rehearsal.” She took a gulp of Coke. Caffeine was frowned upon by The Church, though not, I thought, exclusively forbidden. “I gave all the seniors solos, and they’re terrified. They need help. Don’t forget. Noon tomorrow.”
The Church was strange—strange enough to whisper about. But The Church had a great choir; she had learned so much. They had helped her get her job at the high school, directing the chorus, not easy for a woman without a degree. Also, her folks loved The Church. She couldn’t leave, she said.
“What’s at noon?” I asked.
She paused long enough to tilt her head at me. “Wylodine, really? Graduation, remember? The kids are singing?”
“I don’t want to go back there.”
“You promised. Take a shower if you been working so my folks don’t lose their
“If they haven’t figured it out by now, they’re never going to know,” I said, but Lisbeth
was already shrugging on her coat. Then she was gone, through the jangling door, long braid and layers flapping. In the parking lot, a truck refused to start, balking in the cold.
I ordered hot chocolate. I was careful to take small bills from my wallet when I went up to the counter. Most of the roll of cash from the paper bag boy was stuffed in a Pepsi can back on the floor of the truck. Lobo, who owned the truck, had never been neat, and drink cans, leaves, and empty Copenhagen tins littered the cab. Though the mud on the floor mats had hardened and caked like makeup, though Lobo and Mama had been gone a year now, I hadn’t bothered cleaning out the truck. Not yet.
The top of the Pepsi can was ripped partially off, and it was dry inside: plenty of room for a wad of cash. I had pushed down the top to hide the money, avoiding the razor-sharp edge. Lobo had taught me well.
I took the hot chocolate to go.
In the morning, I rose early and alone, got the stove going, pulled on my boots to hike up the hill to the big house. I swept the basement room. I checked the supplies. I checked the cistern for clogs. The creek rode up the sides of the driveway. Ice floated in the water, brown as tea.
No green leaves had appeared on the trees. No buds. My breath hung in the air, a web I walked through. My boots didn’t sink in the mud back to my own house in the lower field; my footprints were still frozen from a year ago. Last year’s walking had made ridges as stiff as craters on the moon. At the door to my tiny house, I knocked the frost from my boots, and yanked them off, but kept my warm coveralls on. I lit the small stove, listening to the whoosh of the flame. The water for coffee ticked in the pot.
I checked the time on the clock above the sink, a freebie from Radiator Palace.
I feel like she would have grown up listening to country, and to the music her mama liked, as I did, like Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gale. I think she would really like Kacey Musgraves, and would have snuck a copy her albums to her friend who was raised very strict. But I think Wil’s favorite song would be Burning House by Cam. It was on the radio when I was writing. I used to sing it to my son. The lyrics speak a lot to Wil’s situation: “stay here with you/til this dream is gone.” It would have been on the radio when she was driving home from seeing the person who could never love her the way she wanted, driving through the place that could never love her back.
2. Which character in ROAD OUT OF WINTER do you most relate to?
Wil. We were a few months into the pandemic when I realized I actually am Wil. Writing her made me realize I’m stronger than I know. I can get my family cross-country safely. I can make it work. All of her plant knowledge is my own, which I gained from living in rural Appalachia for so long, and from my friends and neighbors. I cry more than she does, though.
3. What was your favorite scene to write? No spoilers!
Everything involving the skaters, though it scared me too. My son is a skater and my partner is (and I used to be, before getting hurt!). Friends of ours have a homemade skate ramp out in the country. Several of my friends basically have their own compounds which, I’m not gonna lie, is a dream. Anytime I can convey the wildness, strangeness, and the abandon of rural Appalachian Ohio is a good writing day. It can be scary but it can also be really fun, living in the middle of nowhere. You can do what you want, to both good and bad results.
4. Who was your favorite character to write and why?
Jamey. In my real life, in part because of my disability, I’m quiet, especially in new situations. I hold back. Jamey says the things I wish I could. She’s also, as my smart friend and early reader Ellee pointed out, a survivor: she can be sarcastic and harsh sometimes because of what she had to endure. Her defense mechanism is pretending not to care. But she does care, deeply.
5. Why was it important to you to have a queer character in your story?
I didn’t consciously set out to make Wil queer and I don’t know that she would call herself that exactly, if she has that language or community yet. She loves who she loves, but her experience of romantic love in a small town has been things just not working out. Nobody really seeing her. That was also my experience for a long time. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself bisexual in the past few years, despite having had long-term relationships with both men and women. That was how I grew up, in a small conservative town. Wil wants love, and the woman she loves wants something else, a bigger life, that Wil always hoped she could make somehow right here where she grew up. My experience is that sometimes you have to make that life elsewhere. Sometimes rural spaces are not the friendliest, home is not the easiest. But I am very proud and glad to have a bi woman in a rural space in my book. I guess I wrote the book I needed when I was young and couldn’t find. It’s still hard to find bi characters, especially in adult literary and commercial fiction. It’s even harder to find them celebrated. We seemed to be skipped over quite a lot. Often I feel invisible, like my life and experiences and struggles don’t matter. Being bi is just who she is, it’s not a plot device. Just a fact, as it is in life.
6. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I like to surprise myself so I am mostly just plunging into writing. The best stories come from dreams, in my opinion. Then once you have the dream, you need to wait a little while until characters and the main events take shape. I usually know the three main acts before I start to write a book, but that’s it. I start to know the end by about the middle. With ROAD OUT OF WINTER, I knew nothing, because the book originally did not go where I wanted it to and so I stopped writing. I thought they were going to go clear across the country and so I stopped. When I came back to the manuscript a few months later, I realized, no, they were never supposed to get out of Appalachia. And I finished the book.
7. Where is your favorite place to write?
I can work anywhere, and have had to, being a single mother for most of my child’s life. But a lot of ROAD OUT OF WINTER, and my next book, were written and revised at The Westend Ciderhouse, a cidery and bar in my town. I would go in the afternoon—they opened early on Fridays—and had my favorite table. Nobody bothered me. Several of the bartenders were my friends but they knew I was working. It was very quiet, and kinda dark and cool, and I would just write—and drink one cider, until it was time for my son to come home from school. I write better in bars than in coffeeshops. I guess I’m just that type.
8. What’s the worst writing advice you ever received?
That you need the approval of a teacher or professor or workshop or a degree to write. Writing is being a collector and interpreter of experiences. You don’t have to study writing formally or major in it, and looking back, I kinda wish I had explored more of my other interests in music and theatre and art. All that would have helped my writing too. Don’t let go of the other stuff that makes you happy. Everything you do helps fill your well as a writer—other art, sports, travel, friendships. Books are your best teachers. The best thing you can do to be a better writer is to read, to experience, to write, and to live.
9. What is the best book you’ve read this year?
The best book I read this year so far was Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I read and loved all the books in the trilogy. They were some of the first books I could get through in the early days of the pandemic, when my mind and heart were all over the place. They helped center me, in part because they made me feel seen. The trilogy focuses on women, queer folks, bi folks, and how we might survive in a world that doesn’t really see or even want us—and that matters to me.
10. What are you working on next?
My second novel TRASHLANDS is coming out from MIRA in the fall of 2021. It’s about a single mom at a strip club at the end of the world. She has to choose between being an artist, being a parent, or being in love, which isn’t much of a choice at all but the kind that women throughout time have been forced to make. And I’m starting to write my next novel, about a reporter who is hard of hearing (like me!) and is called back home to investigate something really bad.
ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
For fans of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris comes a thrilling standalone by New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards about a celebrated singer in WWII occupied France who joins the Resistance to save her estranged family from being killed in a German prison.
In Occupied France, the Resistance trembles on the brink of destruction. Its operatives, its secrets, its plans, all will be revealed. One of its leaders, wealthy aristocrat Baron Paul de Rocheford, has been killed in a raid and the surviving members of his cell, including his wife the elegant Baronness Lillian de Rocheford, have been arrested and transported to Germany for interrogation and, inevitably, execution.
Captain Max Ryan, British SOE, is given the job of penetrating the impregnable German prison where the Baroness and the remnants of the cell are being held and tortured. If they can’t be rescued he must kill them before they can give up their secrets.
Max is in Paris, currently living under a cover identity as a show business impresario whose star attraction is Genevieve Dumont. Young, beautiful Genevieve is the toast of Europe, an icon of the glittering entertainment world that the Nazis celebrate so that the arts can be seen to be thriving in the occupied territories under their rule.
What no one knows about Genevieve is that she is Lillian and Paul de Rocheford’s younger daughter. Her feelings toward her family are bitter since they were estranged twelve years ago. But when she finds out from Max just what his new assignment entails, old, long-buried feelings are rekindled and she knows that no matter what she can’t allow her mother to be killed, not by the Nazis and not by Max. She secretly establishes contact with those in the Resistance who can help her. Through them she is able to contact her sister Emmy, and the sisters put aside their estrangement to work together to rescue their mother.
It all hinges on a command performance that Genevieve is to give for a Gestapo General in the Bavarian town where her mother and the others are imprisoned. While Genevieve sings and the show goes on, a daring rescue is underway that involves terrible danger, heartbreaking choices, and the realization that some ties, like the love between a mother and her daughters and between sisters, are forever.
I am so excited to feature this gorgeous book on my blog today! It seems likethe perfect read for Summer, especially if you were/ are in drama!
With a setting inspired by the real-life Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires where stars like Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lauren Graham, and Chris Pine have performed, THE SUMMER SET (Graydon House Books; May 12; $17.99) is a salacious rom-com, beach read perfect for Broadway nerds and Hollywood gossips alike.
Charlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, she’s pushing forty, exiled from the film world back at the summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires that launched her career—and where her first love, Nick, is the artistic director.
It’s not exactly her first choice. But as parts are cast and rehearsals begin, Charlie is surprised to find herself thriving: bonding with celebrity actors, forging unexpected new friendships, and even reigniting her spark with Nick despite their complicated history.
Until Charlie’s old rival, Hollywood’s current “It Girl,” is brought on set, threatening to undo everything she’s been working towards. As the drama amps up both on the stage and behind the curtains, Charlie must put on one heck of a show to fight for the second chance she deserves in her career and in love.
I MISSED YOU TOO
Charlie studied herself in her bathroom mirror. In just a week her bruised eye had faded to the dull gray of rancid meat, now easily disguised by concealer. She flat-ironed her raven hair, securing it in a sleek, low ponytail, then rummaged the closet for her most professional-looking getup: that slim black suit, pale pink silk blouse with the bow at the neck and the stilettos she only wore when she felt compelled to impress. Her wardrobe from that perfume ad a decade earlier but timeless nonetheless, just like the moniker that had been etched in script on the curved bottle of the fragrance.
Outside, Boston did its best impersonation of her supposed hometown, London. (Though she had lived away from there enough during childhood to have eluded the accent.) The dreary May rain made her think of her mom: the estimable Dame Sarah Rose Kingsbury. News of Charlie’s incident had warranted mentions in a few celebrity weeklies and, unfortunately, made the hop across the pond. Her mother had called, texted and finally, after no response, emailed: Charlie, Did you receive my voice mail and text? I trust you’re alright. Another of your stunts? Please respond. Love, Mum. Her mom’s correspondence always scanned like a telegram, full of stops and full stops—much like their relationship itself. Charlie, reveling in being briefly unreachable and not in the mood to answer questions, hadn’t yet bothered to replace her phone and had indeed missed the call but wrote back assuring her mom that she was fine, though the accident had not, in fact, been performance art.
By the time Charlie reached the foreboding Suffolk County Courthouse, her lawyer/friend Sam—who had shepherded her through the theater purchase (while questioning her sanity)—was already there pacing, barking into her phone.
“This should be easy,” Sam told her, hanging up, hugging her while scrolling her inbox. Sam wore suits and radiated responsibility, two things Charlie found comforting in a lawyer. “Be contrite and it should be open-and-shut for community service.”
The sterile courtroom’s pin-drop silence made Charlie shiver. Next to her, Sam tucked her phone in her bag and rose to her feet, gesturing for Charlie to stand as the judge materialized at the bench. Charlie found it oddly reassuring that the judge was the kind of woman who wore pearls and a frilly collar outside her robe.
“You were okay with my email, right?” Sam whispered, as they sat again.
“What email?” she whispered back.
“My email. An hour ago? You have got to get a new phone,” Sam scolded.
“I know, I know—”
“There was this arrangement, last minute, I hope you’ll be amenable to but—”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Charlie pleaded.
The judge had begun speaking, so Sam hushed her. Too late.
“Ms. Savoy, this is the part where I get to talk.” The judge looked up from the paper she had been reading aloud. “Maybe it was different in your episodes of Law & Order?”
“No, ma’am, I mean, Your Honor, sir, ma’am, no,” Charlie stumbled. She had been wrong about the judge. The woman continued on about the damage Charlie caused and the significant hours of service required like Charlie was the honoree at one of those Comedy Central roasts, albeit one that could end with her in a jail cell.
Until finally, the judge cut to the chase: “…an assignment has presented itself,” she said slowly. “Which will make fine use of Ms. Savoy’s expertise…” Charlie caught Sam’s side-eye. “So Charlotte Savoy shall be required to complete sixty days with the Chamberlain Summer Theater in—”
“NO!” Charlie expelled the word, an anaphylactic response. The judge scowled as though jail might still be an option. “Sorry, Your Honor, I just mean—can I object?” Sam shot her a lethal glare. “It’s just that, well—” Charlie tried again as a door at the back of the courtroom creaked open, footsteps echoing. She turned to discover the equivalent of a ghost.
Nick Blunt—director, ex, first love, disappointment, invertebrate—heading her way.
“Mr. Blunt, thank you for joining us,” the judge said, unimpressed.
Charlie’s posture straightened, heartbeat ticking faster than seemed medically sound. She felt betrayed by her own being, muscles, nerves, ashamed of this reaction.
“Sorry, Your Honor,” he said in that deep rasp.
Charlie wished she hated that voice. And it seemed an abomination that he could still be attractive—physically at least.
Rugged with an athletic build, he wore black jeans, a blazer and aviator sunglasses, which he pulled off as he walked (pure affectation since, to her knowledge, it was still raining outside), tucking them into the V of his slim sweater.
He took his place beside Charlie, flashing that smile he deployed when he aimed to be his most charming.
“Hi there,” he said, as though surprised to be meeting this way.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing a cape?” Charlie rolled her eyes, focused on the judge reading again, and returned her body to its proper slouch, recalibrating her expression between boredom and disgust.
“I missed you too, Charlie,” he whispered back.
From the corner of her eye, Charlie spotted the sharp beak of that tattoo—the meadowlark—curving around from the back of his neck. It was still there, which gave her a pang of affection, a flare-up she forced herself to snuff out. She imagined how they might look to those few people sitting in the rows behind them. Nick and her with these identical birds inked onto the backs of their necks, midflight and gazing at each other anytime he stood on her right side, as he did now. Mirror images, bookends, the birds’ once-vibrant golden hue as faded as the memory of the hot, sticky night she and Nick had stolen away from campus to get them together.
Over the years, she had considered having hers removed or morphed into some other design, but why should she? She liked it. At face value. Charlie sighed again, more loudly than intended, as her mind sped to how this summer would now be.
“Ms. Savoy, is there a problem?” the judge asked, irked.
“Your Honor, I just wondered—is there a littered park or something? Instead?”
“We’re fine, Your Honor.” Sam patted Charlie’s arm in warning.
“Ms. Savoy will report to service June 1.” The judge slammed the gavel, which, to Charlie, sounded like a nail being hammered into a coffin.
“I had a client last week who’s cleaning restrooms at South Station this summer,” Sam said apologetically as they walked out.
Charlie just charged ahead down the hall, an urgent need to escape, her mind struggling to process it all.
“So, craziest thing happened,” Nick launched in, catching up to them at the elevator. “I was reading the news and saw about your little mishap—” He sounded truly concerned for a moment.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t have a Google alert on me,” Charlie cut him off, stabbing the down button too many times.
“You always were a terrible driver—”
“That river came outta nowhere—”
“But a stellar swimmer—”
She nodded once. She couldn’t argue with that.
He went on, “So I made a few calls and—”
“Don’t be fooled by…that.” She waved her hand back toward the courtroom. “You need me more than I need you.”
The elevator opened.
“We’ll see about that.” He let them on first. Charlie hit the button again-again-again to close the doors, but he made it in. “How long has it been, anyway?”
“You know how long it’s been,” she said as the doors closed so she was now looking at their reflection. It had been six years, three months, two weeks and two days since they last saw each other. At the long-awaited premiere for Midnight Daydream—which should’ve been a thrilling night since a series of snags had pushed the film’s release date back two years after filming. But instead of celebratory toasts, it had ended with a glass of the party’s signature cocktail—a messy blackberry-infused bourbon concoction the shade of the night sky—being thrown. In retrospect, she thought, there’d been so many signs the movie was cursed.
“You’re just mad your self-imposed exile is over.” He smirked.
“Always with the probing psychoanalysis.” She watched the floor numbers descend, doors finally opening.
Sam scurried out ahead of them. “My work here is done. I’m sure you two have a lot of catching up to do.” She gave Charlie an air-kiss before striding off.
“Wait, no, I just need to—” Charlie tried to stop her, but Sam had already hopped in a cab.
“So, I have an office not too far, off Newbury Street, off-season headquarters for Chamberlain—” Nick started.
“Luckily you’re usually phoning it in, so I haven’t had the privilege of running into you around town.” She walked ahead in the cool, pelting rain.
He stayed where he was. “I’d invite you out for a drink—”
“It’s, like, 10 a.m. That’s too early. Even for you—” She glanced back.
“Summer is gorgeous in the Berkshires, as you may recall,” he shouted, sunglasses back on, absurdly, and that smile again. “Welcome back to Chamberlain, Charlie.
Q: Please give your elevator pitch for The Summer Set.
A: Gladly! THE SUMMER SET is a romp about a former Hollywood It Girl—Charlie Savoy—who flamed out, left the film world and now is almost 40 and back at the summer Shakespeare theater where she got her start as a teen….and where her ex is the artistic director. Drama and hijinks ensue! But it’s really a universal story about old flames, old friends, old rivals and second acts: having the courage to shake up your life!
Q: Which came first: the characters or plot line?
A: They sort of arrived together! This idea has been with me for a long time: I always had Charlie, my main character, and this sense of wanting her to be embarking on a “second act.” I wanted to tell the story of a bold, wild child kind of star who flamed out early and had to start over and figure out what she truly wanted. I always knew this character would be the type who seemed confident to anyone watching but was actually much more vulnerable deep down. Someone who’s acting as much offstage as onstage!
Q: Why do you love Charlie and why should readers root for her?
A: I really loved writing this character: she’s impulsive and aggressive and tough and uncontrollable. But all of her bravado is covering up how out of place she feels, how nervous she is to be back in the theater world after feeling like she failed in her film career. Anyone who has ever tried to act like they had it all together while actually being unsure on the inside (which I think is all of us, right?!) will understand Charlie and feel she’s a kindred spirit.
Q: We can see from your bio that you have written extensively about entertainment topics. Have you ever been involved in theatre yourself? If so, in which capacities? If not, what fascinates you about the theatre world?
A: As anyone who saw me as Miss Jones in Sherwood High School’s 1994 production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying would know: I am that drama geek who loves theater as much as humanly possible while having no actual talent. 😉 I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town with a fantastic theater—the Olney Theatre in Olney, MD—and I volunteered there (offstage!) all through high school. It was an amazing place because the actors were incredible, they were New York-based, and they would come and actually live together at a residence on the theater property. I’ve always had an overactive imagination so I remember wondering what went on there: which ones were friends, which ones weren’t, was anyone hooking up?! I was fascinated. That experience hanging around there definitely sowed the very early seeds of this novel!
Q: Obviously you’ve interacted with many celebrities. Who were the most fascinating to talk to?
A: Oooh, there were so many fun ones: George Clooney is my all-time favorite (he’s EVERYONE’S favorite!) because he’s just a supernice guy and is that type who seems to always be having a great time. Some more of my favorites who also had that same warm spirit and were so much fun to chat with: Sarah Jessica Parker, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Grant, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the list goes on!
Q: If you could star in a movie or Broadway show, which one would you choose and why?
A: HA! OMG, I love this question! Since THE SUMMER SET is set at a summer theater, I’ll choose Broadway! Wow, there are just. So. Many! I would love to be Angelica in Hamilton and Mimi in Rent and Roxie in Chicago! I assure you I would be absolutely TERRIBLE in all of these roles but it would be tons of fun!
Q: What was your last 5 star read?
A: I just re-read a favorite–THE LOST VINTAGE by the wonderful Ann Mah! It’s an absolute gem of a novel about love, secrets and drama in French wine country. Beautiful writing, fantastic storytelling and it also satisfies the wanderlust we’re all feeling these days.
Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?
A: Oh wow, I feel like even five books in, I’m still learning! But I think one thing I never would’ve expected before I published my first novel is that every time a book comes out you feel that HUGE excitement but also that little rush of nerves, like: “OMG this thing that, for years, only lived in my head and on my laptop is now out there!!! Aaaah!” Or maybe that’s just me? 😉
Q: What inspired you to become a writer?
A: A love of reading! My mom is a librarian so I grew up reading everything in sight and I’ve just always loved escaping into books. I went to journalism school and worked in magazines, which I absolutely adored, but I always dreamed of writing novels, so I feel incredibly lucky to get to do this!
Q: What was your journey to get your first book published?
A: Great question! My first novel was ILLUMINATE, the first of my YA Gilded Wings Trilogy. I tend to write the book I most want to read at any given time and I got lucky that when I was in the mood for YA, so were a lot of other people, so that worked out! But I actually wrote another book BEFORE that one—it was a totally different vibe and not YA–that just didn’t hit things right, for whatever reason. I always say that publishing–the fiction world especially–is like falling in love and you need the right person to read the right manuscript on the right day and have the right connection to it in order to get published. I feel very lucky every time a book gets published!
Q: Let’s talk about your writing, what is your writing process like? Do you follow an outline or do you just see where the story leads you?
A: I’m a major outliner! I need to have everything mapped out. I need to know this journey has a destination. I admire writers who can let things unfold as they go—how freeing that must be!—but I’m a planner, it gives me comfort. Although, there are plenty of twists that only present themselves when you’re in the middle of writing so I do always let myself deviate from my outline too, great stuff comes out of that!
Q: Do you share your work along the way or wait until it is complete to have others read?
A: My sister is my beta reader and she is amazing! Sometimes I’ll give her the book as I’m writing it, as I did with THE SUMMER SET, and other times I’ll wait until it’s all finished (like with my previous novel, CAMPAIGN WIDOWS), it mostly depends on how tight the deadline is! She’s incredible and I’m so grateful for her close eye and the time she spends doing this for me. Since she enjoys the same books/films/stories/genres as I do, I know that if there’s something in my novel that isn’t working for her then it’s not going to work for any reader! She’s the best! If you’re reading this: Hi, sis!
Q: What inspired you to write The Summer Set?
A: I’ve always loved the film/TV/theater/music universe. I started out writing for entertainment magazines—Us Weekly, Premiere—and those jobs were incredible and offered me this amazing glimpse into that celebrity world with all of its ups and downs and drama and excitement. I’m an arts girl so I think there’s something magical about the way a great show, whether on stage or screen, can transport you or connect with you or seem to understand you. And I think the people who are able to bring those stories to life are fascinating!
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
A: I’m (slooooowly) at work on the next novel! It’s in those early stages but it’s an idea I’ve had for a long time so I’m excited! Wish me luck!!
Q: What’s your favorite genre?
A: Oooh, that’s tough! I actually will read anything and everything! For me, it just depends on the story. I’m always on board for great writing and the kind of storytelling that keeps me hooked and turning pages!
Q: Who is your favorite author?
A: I could never choose just one! I grew up on the classics (Austen, the Brontes, Hemingway, Salinger, on and on!) and I adore them so much and revisit them often like checking in on old friends! As for contemporary authors, I love Tom Perrotta, Nick Hornby, Emma Straub, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert, to name a few! There are so many that I love and admire!
Q: What are your top 3 favorite books of all time
A: Oh man, this is REALLY tough because there are just soooo many. But I’ll go with these:
–Pride and Prejudice: I could read this every day! I’m completely Jane Austen-obsessed so I actually feel that way about all of her books. Even now, I’m thinking: should I choose Emma?! Or Persuasion?! How do you choose?!
–The Catcher in the Rye: I love everything Salinger. But Holden Caulfield was my first literary crush!
–A Moveable Feast: I also love everything Hemingway but I’ll go with this one because I’m pretty sure I belong in Paris in the ‘20s. (Aside from my very bad French.)
Q: How do you decide what kind of journey you want your characters to go on?
A: That’s a fantastic, huge question! Those first flashes I always have of a novel are of the main character in some sort of inner turmoil. So I tend to know the reason I’m going to be telling their story in the first place, but figuring out how to show it all and get from point A to B to C, takes a lot of mapping out!
Q: Would you ever write YA fantasy novels again?
A: I love this question! Absolutely, if the right story sparked! I had so much fun writing the Gilded Wings Trilogy, I miss those characters and still think of them and what adventures they might still be having! And I do miss writing magic and superpowers, it was always exciting to get to dream up those elements. So, you never know, I might just have to get back to that! 😉
Aimee Agresti is the author of Campaign Widows and The Gilded Wings trilogy for young adults. A former staff writer for Us Weekly, she penned the magazine’s coffee table book Inside Hollywood. Aimee’s work has also appeared in People, Premiere, DC magazine, Capitol File, the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer, and she has made countless TV and radio appearances, dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and HLN. Aimee graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC, area.
I am so excited to feature this beautiful book today on my blog! It definitley makes me want to go to a villa in Italy! Check out an excerpt below!Thank you so much to Mira Books for having me on the blog tour!
It was just a little white lie. A way to kick-start her freedom.
And Kim Weston was now officially a runaway.
She couldn’t help but laugh at the idea as she stared out the window of the airplane into the abyss around her. Thirty years old—an adult—and here she was, running away from home.
She’d boarded a flight from JFK earlier and watched as the sky turned from pale blue to black. They were already six hours into a nine-hour journey and she was tired but couldn’t sleep.
There wasn’t a star to be seen, no way to discriminate the ocean below from the sky above. Nothing but emptiness.
Ironic because it was exactly how Kim felt inside. She had no reason to, or so everyone told her.
She had everything—the luxurious Manhattan apartment,a personal driver to take her wherever she wanted to go, generous expense accounts at all the best Fifth Avenue stores, and a black Amex to service every last one of her spending needs.
She and her friends were the crème de la crème of New York’s Upper East Side society set and partied with celebrities and VIPs alike. By all accounts she had the quintessential dream life.
So why was she running away?
She could still hear her parents’ voices in her head and her own guilt in her heart as she sat quietly nursing a vodka and orange juice.
Most of the cabin’s passengers were asleep, and the crew was moving around less frequently, but Kim’s mind simply wouldn’t quit.
For once, she wasn’t playing the role she’d been allotted. If she was expected to assume her part in the Weston family script for the rest of her life, then she needed a chance to play the rebel, even if only briefly.
Everything was planned to ensure that her parents wouldn’t find her—at least not for a little while.
Her destination (and certainly choice of accommodation) wasn’t somewhere Peter or Gloria would ever think to look for her, since it was so far removed from the kind of places the Westons usually frequented.
No five-star luxury hotel suite awaiting Kim when she arrived. Instead she was staying at a tumbledown villa she’d found on the internet, where she’d be sharing living space and possibly even a room with other guests. She shuddered involuntarily.
Kim was roughing it, in as much as someone like her could. The house had no on-site staff, apparently there was someone who’d come by daily to tidy and meet and greet, but that was it. No concierge, butler, in-house chef—nothing.
For once, she was going to have to cater for herself—in more ways than one.
That gave her some sense of unease; she wasn’t exactly Martha Stewart, which was why she also planned to maybe enlist herself in an Italian cooking class, as suggested by the booking site she’d used. Failing that, she’d just survive on pizza and pasta. It was Italy after all.
And she could afford that much, for a little while at least.
It was early afternoon when the flight landed at Naples airport and the transfer service she’d arranged (her final luxury—she wasn’t going to rough it entirely after a transatlantic economy flight) picked her up outside the terminal.
“Signorina Weston?” the driver holding the sign with her name on it queried as she approached.
“Buongiorno. Right this way,” the young Italian man instructed as he directed Kim to a waiting black Mercedes.
She stepped outside of the terminal, her long slender legs clad in white jeans, which complemented her hot pink poncho. Sunglasses protected her eyes from the bright sun but she still held a hand to her forehead to shield them as she stared up at an almost cloudless Italian blue sky.
“I am Alfeo,” the driver introduced himself as they walked, taking her luggage along with him. “How was your flight?”
“Long,” she answered. She was bone-tired, a little cranky and not particularly in the mood for small talk.
Alfeo nodded and opened the car door for her. “The journey will take just over an hour and a half depending on traffic. But we can stop along the way if you need anything.”
“That’s fine,” Kim replied as she slid into the back seat and tipped her head against the leather headrest. She closed her eyes, suddenly spent and exhausted from worrying now that she was here.
She was really doing this…
It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed when she was woken by Alfeo’s voice announcing arrival at their destination.
Kim blinked several times as she tried to gather her bearings, then lowered the window to look out at her surroundings. They were parked down some kind of laneway, and up ahead she could make out a grubby wall of peach-colored plaster, and a paint-chipped wooden door—the only interruption on an otherwise blank facade.
Unimpressed, she regarded the weather-worn door and its tarnished brass ring, and hid a frown as she dragged manicured nails through her tousled blonde mane, pulling her hair partially over her shoulder.
Her heart fell. This place looked like a complete dump. She sincerely hoped the inside was a helluva lot better.
“This is Villa Dolce Vita, right?” she asked, casting a fatigued gaze at Alfeo as she stepped out onto the dusty gravel pathway.
“Sì. Villa Dolce Vita.”
“I’ll need your number,” she stated as she walked toward him with her phone in hand. “Just in case.”
Alfeo complied, assuring her that he’d be available whenever she needed, the suggestive grin on his face indicating he meant for more than just transportation. Were Italian men really such unabashed flirts?
“Can you maybe just help get my cases inside before you go?”
“Of course.” He duly took her suitcases out of the boot, while Kim wandered further along the perimeter wall to where a break in the trees gave way to a view of the sea.
Realizing that they were on an elevated site, high above the glittering Gulf of Naples, she glanced to her left to see a group of impossibly beautiful pastel-colored buildings and terra-cotta roofs, clinging and huddled together.
The setup immediately put her in mind of a huge piñata cake: the center of the green and gray mountain cut open to release a tumbling selection of irresistible pastel-colored candy.
Now this is more like it…
Further along down the coast, rock promontories jutted out above diverging bays, beaches and terraces, all presiding over cerulean waters. Hills dotted with lush vineyards, olive trees and citrus groves looked down over the colorful shops, cafés, hotels and historic buildings scattered below.
Sailboats dotted the clear blue waters and, looking down from where she stood, Kim could see snaking wooden steps leading all the way to the rocky shore below.
The whole thing was dizzying in every sense of the word.
By the time she returned to the villa entrance, Alfeo was gone, but the old wooden door had been left ajar.
Kim slipped through into the courtyard area to discover a hidden garden of sorts.
The dark pea gravel of outside gave way to a lighter-colored, more decorative kind, and she noticed heavy stone planters dotted throughout the small courtyard area, housing rows of mature lemon and olive trees.
Coupled with vibrant magenta bougainvillea tumbling down the edge of an old stone building—evidently the villa itself—the garden was a riot of color and, against the azure sky and glittering water on the bay, made for a picture-perfect entrance.
Citrus scent from the lemon trees followed as Kim walked to the front of the property, her senses now well and truly awakened.
The villa was of the same blotchy peach plaster as the out. The side wall, a pretty two-story house with a terra-cotta roof and rustic windows trimmed with dull cast-iron railings that had long since seen better days.
Turning to check out the view from the front of the house, Kim noticed a terraced area beneath the gardens, accessible by four or five stone steps leading down to a small pool bordering the edge of the entire site overlooking the panoramic bay.
Without the ornate bougainvillea-laden perimeter railings holding everything together, it was as if the entire site could easily slip right off the edge and plummet down to the rocky shore below.
OK, so this place was old, but surprisingly charming, and while Kim didn’t have high hopes for the quality of accommodation, given the crumbling exteriors, she already felt a weird sense of calm at just being here.
It was as if Villa Dolce Vita had already cast a spell on her.
A chipped wooden front door with a ringed black-painted knocker at its center stood wide open, and Kim hesitated momentarily as she listened for noise from inside.
She wasn’t sure if there were other guests staying there already or if anyone was even expecting her, but there was no going back now.
She took a deep breath. She was really here. Doing her own thing, finding her own path.
MELISSA HILL lives in south Dublin with her husband and daughter. A USA TODAY and international #1 bestseller, she is the author of 13 novels, including The Gift of a Charm and A Gift From Tiffany’s. The Gift of a Charm was a USA TODAY bestseller. Hailed “the queen of the big plot twist,” she combines all the warmth and humor of contemporary women’s fiction with plots that keep readers guessing from page to page. Melissa also cowrites forensic thrillers with her husband, Kevin, under the pseudonym Casey Hill, featuring crime scene investigator Reilly Steel. For more information, visit www.caseyhillbooks.com.
I tried my hand at another inspo board. If you are looking for something dark and horror related, I would definitely read this! It is written beautifully with a unique style. However, I will give you some warnings; if you at all are triggered by self harm or suicide, this is not for you. BUT if you are looking for a dark atmospheric read, read away!
“Can I ask why you asked me to dance with you? Or is that information confidential?” His pale eyes sparkled as they searched her face. “Why, because I haven’t noticed you participating in any of the dances this evening,” was Melody’s excuse. She tried to keep from looking into his face, so she gazed beyond the ballroom to the gardens outside. The sun cast rays of warm light in through the windows, bathing the ballroom in orange light. “You are a terrible liar, my lady.” He drew her attention back to him. He twirled her in a circle then brought her back to himself. “What is the real reason?” Melody bit her lip as if pained. She looked back over her shoulder and found the prince standing alone near the edge of the dance floor. “Ah. Avoiding the prince, are we?” Her gaze snapped back to the stranger. “Sir, that is not the reason-” she started. “You don’t have to make excuses with me, Princess. I saw you talking to him right before you asked me to dance.” Melody watched her partner with eyes narrowed as they moved in beat with the slow song. “Were you watching me?” He considered her a moment before answering. “Only a little,” he admitted with a smile. “You’re quite intriguing. First you run away from a prince. Then I find you hiding out in the gardens, and you run away from me. Sometime later, to avoid dancing with the prince, you ask a perfect stranger to dance with you.” He quietly chuckled, and Melody’s cheeks heated as she stared at the buttons of his black shirt. “What is your name, then?” she asked to cover up her embarrassment. He only looked at her, and she tried again, “You said I asked a perfect stranger to dance. What, then, is your name, sir?”
I love happily ever after. Really, really love happily ever after. My passion is writing and creating stories that bring a smile to the face of the person reading it. If my book makes you smile at least once during the story, I consider it a success.
I live in a small town in Missouri USA. If I’m not sitting at my computer, putting off doing any sort of real work, you can find me in my kitchen baking cookies, spending time with my family, or binge-watching a newly discovered television series.
I publish books both on Wattpad and on Amazon Kindle. Check me out on both sites for different collections of fun stories that I hope bring a smile to your day.
I am so excited to be featuring this lovely book on my blog today! Plus there is an excerpt AND an author Q&A!Thank you so much to Harlequin for having me on the tour!
Olivia shoved her hands into her pockets against the damp Seattle afternoon. Nothing would take the chill from her bones, though. She knew that. Even five days of sick leave, huddling in her bed and mindlessly bingeing on cooking shows hadn’t done anything but make her crave cake.
She couldn’t hide away in her apartment forever. Eventually she was going to have to reenter life and go back to work, which was why she stood outside this coffee shop in a typical spring drizzle with her heart pounding and her stomach in knots.
This was stupid. The odds of anything like that happening to her again were ridiculously small. She couldn’t let one man battling mental illness and drug abuse control the rest of her life.
She could do this.
She reached out to pull the door open, but before she could make contact with the metal handle, her cell phone chimed from her pocket.
She knew instantly from the ringtone it was her best friend from high school, who still lived in Cape Sanctuary with her three children.
Talking to Melody was more important than testing her resolve by going into the Kozy Kitchen right now, she told herself. She answered the call, already heading back across the street to her own apartment.
“Mel,” she answered, her voice slightly breathless from the adrenaline still pumping through her and from the stairs she was racing up two at a time. “I’m so glad you called.”
Glad didn’t come close to covering the extent of her relief. She really hadn’t wanted to go into that coffee shop. Not yet. Why should she make herself? She had coffee at home and could have groceries delivered when she needed them.
“You know why I’m calling, then?” Melody asked, a strange note in her voice.
“I know it’s amazing to hear from you. You’ve been on my mind.”
She was not only a coward but a lousy friend. She hadn’t checked in with Melody in a few weeks, despite knowing her friend was going through a life upheaval far worse than witnessing an attack on someone else.
As she unlocked her apartment, the cutest rescue dog in the world, a tiny, fluffy cross between a Chihuahua and a miniature poodle, gyrated with joy at the sight of her.
Yet another reason she didn’t have to leave. If she needed love and attention, she only had to call her dog and Otis would come running.
She scooped him up and let him lick her face, already feeling some of her anxiety calm.
“I was thinking how great it would be if you and the boys could come up and stay with me for a few days when school gets out for the summer,” she said now to Melody. “We could take the boys to the Space Needle, maybe hop the ferry up to the San Juans and go whale watching. They would love it. What do you think?”
The words seemed to be spilling out of her, too fast. She was babbling, a weird combination of relief that she hadn’t had to face that coffee shop and guilt that she had been wrapped up so tightly with her own life that she hadn’t reached out to a friend in need.
“My apartment isn’t very big,” she went on without waiting for an answer. “But I have an extra bedroom and can pick up some air beds for the boys. They’ve got some really comfortable ones these days. I’ve got a friend who says she stayed on one at her sister’s house in Tacoma and slept better than she does on her regular mattress. I’ve still got my car, though I hardly drive it in the city, and the boys would love to meet Otis. Maybe we could even drive to Olympic National Park, if you wanted.”
“Liv. Stop.” Melody cut her off. “Though that all sounds amazing and I’m sure the boys would love it, we can talk about that later. You have no idea why I called, do you?”
“I… Why did you call?”
Melody was silent for a few seconds. “I’m afraid there’s been an accident,” she finally said.
The breath ran out of Olivia like somebody had popped one of those air mattresses with a bread knife.
“Oh no. Is it one of your boys?” Oh please, she prayed. Don’t let it be one of the boys.
Melody had been through enough over the past three months, since her jerkhole husband ran off with one of his high school students.
“No, honey. It’s not my family. It’s yours.”
Her words seemed to come from far away and it took a long time for them to pierce through.
Fear rushed back in, swamping her like a fast-moving tide. She sank blindly onto the sofa.
“Is it Caitlin?”
“It’s not your niece. Stop throwing out guesses and just let me tell you. It’s your mom. Before you freak out, let me just say, first of all, she’s okay, from what I understand. I don’t have all the details but I do know she’s in the hospital, but she’s okay. It could have been much worse.”
Her mom. Olivia tried to picture Juliet lying in a hospital bed and couldn’t quite do it. Juliet Harper didn’t have time to be in a hospital bed. She was always hurrying somewhere, either next door to Sea Glass Cottage to the garden center the Harper family had run in Cape Sanctuary for generations or down the hill to town to help a friend or to one of Caitlin’s school events.
“She had a bad fall and suffered a concussion and I think some broken bones.”
Olivia’s stomach twisted. A concussion. Broken bones. Oh man. “Fell where? Off one of the cliffs near the garden center?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know all the details yet. This just happened this morning and it’s still early for the gossip to make all the rounds around town. I assumed you already knew. That Caitlin or someone would have called you. I was only checking in to see how I can help.”
This morning. She glanced at her watch. Her mother had been in an accident hours earlier and Olivia was just finding out about it now, in late afternoon.
Someone should have told her—if not Juliet herself, then, as Melody said, at least Caitlin.
Given their recent history, it wasn’t particularly surprising that her niece, raised by Olivia’s mother since she was a baby, hadn’t bothered to call. Olivia wasn’t Caitlin’s favorite person right now. These days, during Olivia’s regular video chats with her mother, Caitlin never popped in to say hi anymore. At fifteen, Caitlin was abrasive and moody and didn’t seem to like Olivia much, for reasons she didn’t quite understand.
“I’m sure someone tried to reach me but my phone has been having trouble,” she lied. Her phone never had trouble. She made sure it was always in working order, since so much of her freelance business depended on her clients being able to reach her and on her being able to Tweet or post something on the fly.
“I’m glad I checked in, then.”
“Same here. Thank you.”
Several bones broken and a long recovery. Oh dear. That would be tough on Juliet, especially this time of year when the garden center always saw peak business.
“Thank you for telling me. Is she in the hospital there in Cape Sanctuary or was she taken to one of the bigger cities?”
“I’m not sure. I can call around for you, if you want.”
“I’ll find out. You have enough to worry about.”
“Keep me posted. I’m worried about her. She’s a pretty great lady, that mom of yours.”
Olivia shifted, uncomfortable as she always was when others spoke about her mother to her. Everyone loved her, with good reason. Juliet was warm, gracious, kind to just about everyone in their beachside community of Cape Sanctuary.
Which made Olivia’s own awkward, tangled relationship with her mother even harder to comprehend.
“Will you be able to come home for a few days?”
Home. How could she go home when she couldn’t even walk into the coffee shop across the street?
“I don’t know. I’ll have to see what’s going on there.”
How could she possibly travel all the way to Northern California? A complicated mix of emotions seemed to lodge like a tangled ball of yarn in her chest whenever she thought about her hometown, which she loved and hated in equal measures.
The town held so much guilt and pain and sorrow. Her father was buried there and so was her sister. Each room in Sea Glass Cottage stirred like the swirl of dust motes with memories of happier times.
Olivia hadn’t been back in more than a year. She kept meaning to make a trip but something else always seemed to come up. She usually went for the holidays at least, but the previous year she’d backed out of even that after work obligations kept her in Seattle until Christmas Eve and a storm had made last-minute travel difficult. She had spent the holiday with friends instead of with her mother and Caitlin and had felt guilty that she had enjoyed it much more than the previous few when she had gone home.
She couldn’t avoid it now, though. A trip back to Cape Sanctuary was long overdue, especially if her mother needed her.
What made you write this story? (The “story behind the story”)
That’s a very long “story behind the story”! My husband of 34 years was adopted at birth to a wonderful loving famiy and never knew anything about his birth parents. He was never really interested, though I always wondered. He took a DNA test a few years ago before going in for a major surgery, just out of curiosity so our kids could know something about his ethnic heritage, and was astonished a few months later when results from Ancestry.com came in linking him to several close relatives on his maternal side. He wasn’t going to do anything about it but through a very strange sequence of events, he eventually connected with three half-brothers, an aunt and several uncles (including one who has been our neighbor and friend for more than twenty years without either us knowing the connection!). Unfortunately, my husband’s birth mother died several years ago so he never had the chance to meet her but my husband now has a wonderful relationship with his brothers, who have embraced and welcomed him. I have heard of these kind of stories before and after living through the amazing results from a simple DNA test, I wanted to write about someone trying to trace her father. That’s one of the underlying subplots to THE SEA GLASS COTTAGE.
Which character do you most relate to in the story and why?
I love all of them but probably am most drawn to Juliet, who yearns for those she loves to be happy. That’s a universal mom need, I think. Also, she hesitates to lean on others even when she really needs the help because she doesn’t want to be a burden and feels as if her role is to caretake those she loves instead of the other way around. I can definitely relate to this one!
Do you have a place you go to in order to clear your head like Olivia did?
I don’t live by the ocean, unfortunately, but I do live in the mountains of Utah. Ten minutes from my home, I can be in a gorgeous wilderness area where I can walk and think and meditate. We are heading into the most beautiful time of year here, where the mountains turn green with new growth and wildflowers begin to pop out. I can’t wait!
Is this based on a real place?
Cape Sanctuary is kind of an amalgamation of some of my favorite spots along the Pacific coast, a mix of Carmel, California and Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s loosely based near Trinidad, California. I only wish it really existed!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I started out in journalism in high school and discovered I loved telling stories. After graduating in journalism, I spent ten years at a daily newspaper as a reporter and editor but dreamed of writing a romance novel some day. When I was on maternity leave with our oldest (who is now 30!), I started my first book. It took me about 5 years of tinkering with it, dealing with rejections, rewriting and starting something new before I sold my first two books to Bantam Loveswept in 1995. I’ve been writing full time since 1997 when our second child was born. The Sea Glass Cottage is my 63rd book. I get a little overwhelmed when I think about all those words!
What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Like all my books, the core story is that we’re all here to learn how to take care of each other. All my books have the underlying theme that our lives become better and more fulfilling when we reach out to help and lift someone else. The world can sometimes feel ugly and angry. I feel like there’s an increasing need for us all to focus on trying a little harder to be kind. Life is filled with pain and trials but it can also be beautiful and joyful at the same time.
What drew you into this particular genre?
I still consider all my books romance novels at heart because that is the genre I have adored since I was eleven years old. My books will always have some kind of love story in them! But my hardcovers also have provided a wonderful chance to explore deeper relationship issues: Healing a rift between a mother and a daughter, finding peace when a relationship with a sister ended in tragedy, finding common ground between an aunt and a niece.
If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
I would probably ask Juliet why she kept so many secrets from those who might have been able to help her deal better with the challenges she faces.
What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
Right new I think it’s a close tie between Facebook and Instagram, probably weighted a little more to Facebook. I don’t use Twitter much.
What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Focus on the emotions you want your readers to feel in your stories. Readers love finding authors who can carry them away with their storytelling, making them feel what the characters feel. They want that emotional ride! Find the kind of stories you love to tell, focus on your strengths and constantly keep stretching yourself in new directions.
What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
Yes! Always ☺ The last book in my Haven Point series, SUMMER AT LAKE HAVEN, comes out June 23. This is Samantha Fremont’s book, for those who have read others in the series. It also includes a surprise novella. Next up will be a standalone Christmas book in an all-new community, Silver Bells, Colorado. CHRISTMAS AT HOLIDAY HOUSE will be out in late September. And I recently spent three days at a California beach house with writer friends plotting my next hardcover and can’t wait to start writing it! THE PATH TO SUNSHINE COVE (tentative title!) will also be set in Cape Sanctuary and will be out April 2021.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I am the luckiest of writers because I have my own office. Several years ago, we made the impulsive decision to buy the house adjacent to ours. It was rundown and unsightly and kind of blighted the view from our backyard. Our plan was to fix it up to increase our own property value and then rent it out but after the renovation, I loved it too much to rent it out so I took it over. I have loved it! With a special needs son who has multiple disabilities and requires total care, life at my house is at times chaotic and messy but I always have such a sense of peace and calm when I go to my office. And I love that I can walk through the backyard in my jammies to go to work.
What do you like best about your new book?
I love the peace and healing that came to the characters from being honest with their loved ones and opening their hearts to second chances.
Do you have a favorite character in The Sea Glass Cottage?
This is a hard question because all my characters become cherished friends when I’m writing a book and I love them all but I really adore Henry. He is just an amazing hero for Juliet ☺
What inspired you to become a writer?
I have been a voracious reader all my life and have loved romance novels since I used to steal them out of my mom’s room when I was still a preadolescent! I always used to tell stories to my friends, usually involving our latest celebrity crushes. I didn’t know I was destined to become a writer at the time but when I look back, I see all the things that set me on the path. I actually wanted to be an actress and was very involved in drama in high school, including performing in a repertory theater company, but my mom persuaded me to take a journalism class my junior year and I fell in love with telling stories. Even as I went into journalism through college and my subsequent career as a reporter and editor, I dreamed of writing a romance novel. I never imagined some day I could say I’ve written sixty-something of them!
New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.
I am so excited to feature and give y’all an excerpt of this gorgeous book! It sounds so good! I love books about secret societies and super powers! How cool! Plus it is written by two indie authors! I love supporting indie authors!
A strange smile slowly comes across his sallow face, like he’s glad Emeral chose to not go with him or run, yet sorry for her at the same time.
“I didn’t say my name, but that’s not really the name you’re looking for, now is it? Think about it deep down, you already know. Probably your biggest feat coming to life. I am an operative for an organization known as the Arcane. They specialize in extracting people with your skill set from society. We have a special type of appreciation for your ability, as you probably know by now.”
The feat Emerald pushed aside for a moment find its place, and her confidence is melting away. The Arcane. They know, and they’ve come for me, she thinks. Somewhere in a corner of her mind, she reminds herself that she has prepared for this. She always knew somewhere inside her that this was a possibility, and that’s why she started the defensive fighting classes. This is what she was preparing for. She can do this.
While working on this novel, Alyssa graduated with a bachelor’s in Psychology and went on to get a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. She currently lives in New Mexico with her husband, Jared, and their newest addition, daughter, Zoey.
Alongside a career in nutrition and fitness, Ann spends her days chasing three little girls around a cattle ranch in Northeastern New Mexico with her husband, Casey. What started as a fun project for sisters-in-law turned into a co-author match mad in heaven! Ann and Alyssa are thrilled to present their first novel to you, the readers.
This book sounds so good, y’all! I can’t wait to read it! Let’s spread the love, what are some of your favorite Indie books?
I am very excited to feature Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara! I am a little behind on the series but I’ve read some of them and LOVE these books. They’re so cool! They would make a great TV show. Check out the Excerpt and Author Q&A below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!
Q&A with Michelle Sagara
Q: Your Chronicles of Elantra series is 15 books deep. How do you keep up with the characters and the plot? What do your notes look like?
A: I have a wiki that is not online, and I attempt to keep it updated as I write. This is not always as easy or tidy as it sounds. The wiki (I use VoodooPad) is easily searchable, but I have to remember to search it, and sometimes I don’t.
I am not a visual person, at all. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I had known my husband for years, and it wasn’t until someone in the store asked what color his eyes were that I realized I didn’t know. Since he’s blond (Finnish on his mother’s side), I assumed that they were blue, and after some thought said, “probably blue”, which caused mild confusion. Had I not known my husband for years? I went home and this time looked and paid attention to what I was seeing: they were blue.
Because eye color had not–obviously–been of great import to me, eye color was the start of my note-keeping. I needed to try to track eye color of characters because I knew I’d forget. And… I still got it wrong between books. T_T.
But… the internals of the characters–what they want, where they’ve come from, the experiences that produced them, I viscerally know. Height? No, not really. Shape? Well, I remember which ones are human, Barrani, Dragon, Tha’alani, etc. Hates? Likes? Yes. Goals as well, if they have them. I remember their place in the hierarchies they occupy, because in some ways, that’s part of their interior makeup.
But sometimes, when in the flow of the words, I… don’t remember to go and check the wiki for the details that, in the moment of writing, aren’t important to me.
My notes, however, and all cross-linked to each other, because of the wiki format.
Q: What kind of research do you do for your books? Is it mandatory (for you) for all your books?
A: It’s very much on a book-by-book basis. At this point in the writing, most of the research is… all the previous books.
I have had books which are more research intensive, but in general I read history in bits and pieces, and file away what I’ve read. It becomes part of the mental soil from which books grow.
So, there are specific books in which I realized, as I was writing, that I didn’t know something that I needed to know, and that stopped the writing dead as I then attempted to find answers to the questions that arose from my own ignorance. I think, as I get older, I realize far more easily when I don’t know something and need to know it.
But I’m what’s generally called a pantser. I don’t have a plan when I start; I usually only have the ending. To know exactly what I don’t know and need to know is therefore not entirely predictable.
…and I admit that once I’ve started building bits and pieces of world, I become increasingly impatient because I just want to dive in and start writing. So sometimes I start, write, and then stop because something a specific character would know, I don’t know. And then I set the book aside and start to look at things.
I think it’s important to know what my characters know, or at least what my viewpoint characters know.
Q: What is it about fantasy that makes you love it above any other genre?
A: This is a harder question to answer, because it’s so specific; it’s entirely Michelle-context. Does that context overlap with other readers? Yes. But not all of it, and not simultaneously.
I’m a product of my culture, my reading culture, and my linguistic limitations; I speak only English, and can only read French with a fifty percent chance of understanding it.
So: books I read and loved when young had fantasy elements, were fantasy. I read a lot of fairy tales. Anything I could get my hands on. Portal fantasy like the Narnia books. Fantasy like McKillip’s Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Fantasy like The Hobbit, and eventually, Lord of the Rings.
I also read a lot of mythology books–at first for kids, and later, translations of plays and sagas that hadn’t been written with children in mind.
I read other books, books without fantasy elements, growing up–but the things that spoke to me most strongly were those. They were the books of my developing reader heart. As I traversed the divide between childhood and not-childhood (does anyone truly ever feel adult on the inside of their own head? I always feel like I’ve gotten better at performing adulthood, but I can’t quite feel it as my base state), I found other fantasy. I also found books like The Left Hand of Darkness.
And all of the reading overlapped with life experiences; everything on the inside of my head, like the soil out of which story grows and evolves.
I loved fantasy as a reader. I loved reading as a reader. When I made the choice to start writing, I wrote what I loved.
Q: If you didn’t write, what would you be doing?
A: I cannot actually answer that question, because I have always written. From about six years of age, on. I didn’t write for other people, and I hid all my writing because I didn’t want to open it up to judgement and criticism.
If you mean, what would I do to make money, I’m not sure. Work, yes–but I’m not sure doing what. I didn’t expect, growing up, that my work would be my life; a job was a necessity, because having a roof over one’s head and food on the table was a necessity. I didn’t therefore pursue a career about which I could be passionate until I started to write for submission.
If I worked for someone else for a living, I would still write, because I always did. Would I write as often or as consistently? Probably not. There were gap months in university in which I didn’t write at all. But I always came back to it because writing words was an act of communication.
How, if I didn’t share them?
Good question. It was an act of communication with myself. It was a way of seeing, more clearly, things I believed or things that moved me, that I had not fully processed or pragmatically understood.
It was also like an exorcism: I put these words down so that they didn’t envelop and overwhelm the rest of my thoughts.
Q: What is the most difficult thing about your writing process?
A: The answer will depend entirely on when the question is asked, sadly.
If, for instance, I’m starting a new book, the answer will be: beginnings. I start a book several times, trying to find the right tone, the right voice. The longest not right attempt at a beginning was thirty-two pages. Most peter out at between four and six.
At the moment, I’m revising, so the answer is: Revision.
Writing, once I have a beginning, is about flow. The story is like a river; I can follow it. I can swim in it. I can drown in it if I don’t remember to come up for air. But the entirety of the book flows from beginning to end. I don’t write out of order. I don’t write to an outline. Part of writing, or the joy of it, is in the discovery. I have an idea of where things are going and how they’ll get there, but the act of writing the book produces a lot – sometimes a LOT – of surprises.
What I know is the end. I understand the world. I don’t know how the characters will reach the end from the beginning, because even when I do know, I’m often wrong.
So, I now have a finished book. I revise it for submission–but I’m aware that I’m too close to it, and that my editor is going to be reading it and pointing out the parts that didn’t work for her.
Here’s the trick to editing: editors read as readers. Their editorial experience gives them the abililty to explain why they had the reader reaction they did. I’m not going to argue about the editor’s reaction to the book. Even if I disagree with it, what am I going to say? No you didn’t react that way? Clearly, they did.
What I can do is examine why the scene didn’t work for the editor. Why it wasn’t compelling enough or believeable enough. If I want to keep that scene in this book, I have work to do.
But. Revision requires–for me–an entirely different frame of mind. It’s more objective; objectivity is required for me to assess structure and structural changes. Subjectivity is required for me – and let me take this moment to stress that all writers have different processes and I’m talking about only mine – to write.
And I can get caught up between the two states, until I can’t tell what’s objective and what’s subjective.
The corollary to that is that the book is a metaphoric river, and it is very difficult to restructure a river. I can’t just cut out one part and move it to another part if the terrain and the riverbed are not substantially the same for the two parts.
Which means I frequently end up having to take a chapter which mostly works and throw the entire thing out and start it again because I can see the seams in the revision if I don’t.
Q: Finally, what do you want readers to leave with after finishing your books?
A: I write books because reading books moved me. A lot. I could get lost in a book, sink into it, follow it, think about it, daydream about it.
Parts of that were intellectual, but the drive to be intellectual about a book I’d read came from a strong emotional response to it. What I want readers to leave with is the emotional response to the story and characters I had, and built, while writing it. I want to open a window into what the book made me feel as the writer.
Writing story is, in some ways, building a vessel that is solid enough to carry the emotional weight of the ending.
“You are such a coward,” Bellusdeo said when they’d reached the relative safety of the street. The roads in and around Helen were sparsely populated at the busiest of times, which this wasn’t. They would soon join roads that were crowded at the slowest of times, but Kaylin was dressed for the office. The Hawk emblazoned on her tabard encouraged people to make space.
Had Bellusdeo hit the streets in her Draconic form, she’d have cleared far more of it—but some of that space would be created by panic, and panic could cause both accidents and the type of traffic congestion that caused the Swords to investigate. Also, it was illegal.
“It’s not cowardice,” Kaylin replied, scanning the windows of the buildings above ground level.
“What would you call it?”
“There’s no point in arguing with them now. Sedarias thinks it’ll be months before this ridiculous command performance occurs. We have months to attempt to talk her out of—”
“Out of expressing any appreciation or gratitude?”
Ugh. “You know they’re grateful. This isn’t about gratitude. It’s about rubbing that gratitude in the faces of the Barrani who attempted to brand you a—an army. An attacking army.”
“I believe the term you want is Flight.” Bellusdeo’s eyes were orange.
Hope squawked at the Dragon. Kaylin didn’t understand what he was saying. Bellusdeo did, but her eyes didn’t get any lighter.
“You know as well as I do,” Kaylin said, emboldened by Hope’s entry into the discussion, “that this is not the time to visit the High Halls. I’m not sure the Emperor has ever been a guest there.”
“We visited the Halls—more or less—when they came under attack, and the Barrani needed our help.”
“From the outside. No one invited the Dragon Court in.”
The chorus of Barrani voices that sometimes offered entirely unasked for opinions on the inside of her head maintained their silence for half a beat. The first person to break that silence was the fieflord. His words were tinged with amusement.
You cannot expect that the cohort would suddenly cease to cause any difficulty, surely?
I’m almost certain that the cohort understands why inviting a Dragon—any Dragon—to attend the High Halls would be a disaster.
For the Dragons?
I believe some of the more conservative High Lords might be surprisingly supportive of such an invitation.
Of course they would. It would be their best shot at killing Bellusdeo. If Bellusdeo died, there would be no new Dragons. No hatchlings.
There’s no way the Emperor would give her permission to attend.
Nightshade concurred. In his position, I would not. But I would be prepared, should I refuse to grant that permission, for all-out war. My brother has grown inordinately fond of her; living with you has made him reckless.
He has known Bellusdeo for even less time than you. He is willing to trust her in a fashion no one older would. And do not cite the Consort, please.
Kaylin hadn’t intended to. The Consort seems to like her.
Kaylin, the Consort “likes” me. But she does not trust me.
“Stop making that face, or it will freeze that way.” Kaylin reddened.
I understand that you are attempting to avoid the Emperor’s ire. I consider this wise on your part. It is not, however, the ire of the Emperor that will be your most significant problem; he will do nothing to harm Bellusdeo.
I know that.
It is the ire of the High Lords. Sedarias is, I believe, genuinely grateful for Bellusdeo’s intervention. She does wish to honor her. But gratitude can be expressed privately—and in most cases, it is. Only rulers feel obliged to make that expression public because the public expression elevates those to whom one feels gratitude. It makes clear to witnesses that the aid tendered—in whatever fashion—is important and significant. The Emperor has codified such significance in public ceremonies and public titles, has he not?
For Sedarias, however, genuine gratitude is not an impediment to political displays. She can be genuinely grateful and simultaneously,extremely political. She wishes to highlight Bellusdeo’s aid and import to Mellarionne. Why do you think this is?
Kaylin thought about this. After a long pause, she said, She wants to thumb her nose at the rest of the High Lords, many of whom weren’t helpful at all?
Nightshade’s silence was one of encouragement.
Bellusdeo’s a Dragon. So…her presence means that even Dragons—with whom you’ve had a war or two—
Fine, a war or three, were more helpful, or at least more of a genuine ally, than any of the Barrani.
Yes. I believe that is some part of Sedarias’s intent. That’s not going to help Mellarionne any.
Perhaps, perhaps not. She will do so as An’Mellarionne. It would be considered a very bold move—but there are those who would assume that Sedarias is confident in her own power, and they would hesitate to challenge her.
“If you are speaking about me,” Bellusdeo said, her voice almost a whisper of sound, “I must insist that you include me.”
“Well, yes, that could cause some difficulty,” the Dragon replied. “But I dislike Kaylin’s worry. She is mortal.” Squawk. “The marks of the Chosen don’t matter. She’s mortal. I may be a displaced person in these lands; I may no longer have a home or lands of my own. But I am a Dragon.”
“I’m not exactly worried about you,” Kaylin said. When one golden brow rose in response, she added, “Not about you specifically. But—there’s no way for Dragon and High Halls to combine that isn’t political. Explosively political. On your own, you can survive more than any of the rest of the cohort—or me. But you won’t be on your own. The cohort won’t abandon you.”
It was the Dragon’s turn to snort.
Kaylin reconsidered her words and chose better ones. “Most of the cohort wouldn’t abandon you. Annarion wouldn’t. Mandoran wouldn’t. I don’t believe Allaron would either, from what I’ve seen. And you know what the cohort is like. The minute one of them enters combat to save you, they’re all going to rush in. It doesn’t matter if they’re there for your sake or their friends’; they’ll be there. But this is political, and anything political is far above my pay grade.”
“You don’t seem to find this insulting.”
“I consider it one of the biggest advantages of my rank. Which is the lowest rank I could be given and still be called a Hawk.”
“One of? What’s another one?”
“I’m not in command. I don’t need to make decisions that might cost the lives of other Hawks. No matter what happens in an action, large or small, I won’t have their deaths on my hands.”
“But you don’t like being a private.”
“Well, I could be a corporal, and it would still be mostly true. And the pay is higher.”
“It’s not much higher,” a familiar voice said. It was Mandoran’s. Of course it was. Kaylin didn’t miss a step.
“I don’t suggest you try to enter the Halls of Law looking like that.”
“Like thin air.”
“Oh. That.” Mandoran caused other people some consternation as he materialized to the side of Kaylin that Bellusdeo wasn’t occupying. To be fair, most of the street didn’t notice; people always had their own problems and their own schedules. “I was going to follow Teela into the office, but Teela’s not heading there directly.”
“So you followed us?”
“Not most of the way, no. I decided to head straight here to wait, but I caught up because you’re doing the Hawk-walk.” He glanced at Bellusdeo. “For what it’s worth, I think insisting on your presence on the inside of the High Halls is suicidal.”
“Oh?” The Dragon’s voice was cool. “For who?”
Mandoran grinned. “Mostly Kaylin.”
Kaylin watched as flecks of gold appeared in Bellusdeo’s eyes. Mandoran had, once again, managed to set Bellusdeo at ease. Kaylin wondered if that was why he’d chosen to speak when he had. He never treated the Dragon with respect; had the Emperor been present for most of their spats, she wasn’t certain Mandoran wouldn’t be a pile of bleeding ash. Well, ash, because ash didn’t bleed, but still.
“You left the rest of the cohort behind?” Kaylin asked.
“We had a vote, and Helen decided it was safest to send me.”
“She was the tie-breaker?”
“Ah, no. She didn’t consider the first choice viable. But— we can all see what I see anyway, so unless there’s an attack, having more than one person here is superfluous. If Teela had been coming directly to the office, someone would have followed Teela.”
“Not you?” Bellusdeo asked.
“I had to live with Tain for a few years. Compressed into a few weeks, I might add. He’s stuffy and remarkably straightforward. Also, he hates fun.”
“He hates mess,” Kaylin said, as they approached the stairs that led into the Halls of Law.
“Define mess. No, wait, don’t. The problem with Tain—at least for me—is that Teela might actually kill us if we’re indirectly responsible for his death. He’s not like the rest of us; we can’t speak to him without shouting, and even if we can, he doesn’t listen half the time. So…it’s a lot less safe to tail Tain.”
“I imagine it’s safer to tail Tain than it is to tail Kaylin if you’re worried about Teela’s reaction,” Bellusdeo said, frowning slightly.
Michelle Sagara is an author, bookseller, and lover of literature based in Toronto. She writes fantasy novels and lives with her husband and her two children, and to her regret has no dogs. Reading is one of her life-long passions, and she is sometimes paid for her opinions about what she’s read by the venerable Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No matter how many bookshelves she buys, there is Never Enough Shelf space. Ever.